Theater

dt1166Instead of going to the train home, I went to T Tower.  I was having another bout of “This can’t be happening,” this time the source of the flare-up was reading that DT’s hand would rest on the Lincoln Bible at the inauguration.

He lives in a tower, at the top, just like the Grinch.

Why was I doing this?  This was a bad idea.  Why would I want to go there?  I was obsessed. It would help.  It was a bad idea.

The barricades go all the way around.  To get closer than the sidewalk corner touching the building, you must at least state your business, a sign says, “Starbucks/T Tower only.”  There was a tiny tent for a person running that station.  Unlike a friend who talked his way in, I accepted not getting any closer.

Why was I there at all?  He’s just a person, I thought.

The NYPD, bundled up, with their bored but solid faces.  I didn’t figure T Tower was among the prime assignments.

I crossed the street, and behind a bunch of lights and things covered in tarps, probably left by reporters and TV crews, there was a group of red-hatted people.  About ten of them were holding American flags and some of them held lit candles, too.  Like DT was a condemned prisoner, or someone had died there.

I looked at their faces with mine completely open, like I had taken it off, my eyes had never been so open, for anything to walk in.  They were people.  Right? Who on earth were they?  What on earth were they thinking?

People who have been bullied want to ally themselves with bullies, that happens.  What were they feeling?  I have come to think the epidemic of abuse women suffer set them up to think voting for a person like him was okay.  “It’s just the way men are,” I read many times.  That’s the propaganda of abuse.

They really felt tenderly toward the bad-tempered, vulgar, self-contradicting millionaire?

There was a guy wearing a sign that said, “BUTTONS,” one of the gentleman entrepreneurs who spring up like mushrooms around here.  At your service.  They were anti-T buttons, of course those would sell better.

I stood there, leaning on the barricade, looking up at the ziggurat of the black tower, on the dark grey sky.  It was quotidian.  It was just something that had happened.  The tower with the Grinch in it, sneering at everyone but his friends, well friends is the wrong word, when you intimidate people like that, you’ll never know if you have any real friends.

I leaned on the metal barricade.  It wasn’t that cold.  People behind me took photos, took photos of each other, without any political vibe to them.  I didn’t want to take any photos.

Why wasn’t there a 24-7 vigil here, hoping and praying this guy would act like a responsible adult?  For all our 24-7ness now, protests gather and swarm and then dry up.

I walked away, and all that money of that part of town was glaring harder.  My rent check had bounced that day, I had money, just had moved it around before the check cleared, in one of my classic moves, it made me feel like an idiot, but it also made me feel good that I wasn’t indebted to, or entangled with, that garish volume of money and braggadocio.  I loved the blue blouse I bought at the thrift store last weekend.  It was $5.  It is silk, with tiny white polka-dots.

So much money no one needs.  When it makes beautiful things, I am grateful.  Big money funds the Met, our grimy-pretty subway stations, and, unfortunately, the local police presence all around T Tower.

When it makes more ugliness, it’s so sad for everyone.  It makes more want, and a world that looks like there’s some way to show off that will finally make you a person.

I found myself at the TKTS counter handing the woman my debit card for an $80 ticket.  Oh shit.

I was going to see John Slattery, John Goodman, and, sure, him, too, Nathan Lane.  I’ve had a thing for Slattery from way before “Mad Men,” and I love John Goodman’s work choices maybe as much as his work.  He gave us the relief of seeing a family without enough money on “Roseanne,” and his work with the Coen Brothers, my spirit animals, he brought power in his body, and brittleness in his soul.  Slattery is charming as the devil himself, moves like the sexiest gazelle on the savannah, first to tease you, then tickle you, then, well, then.

The play: I sat next to someone else at the theater alone, which is always nice, even if we don’t talk, it feels companionable.  He laughed well, too.  It took a while for Slattery to get onstage, once he was there, I (apologies to his wife) spent some time watching his hands move and think about what they would be good at, which distracted me from any dialogue.  Happily the script called for him to change his clothes, too.  I would guess the large contingent of gay couples in the front rows didn’t mind this, either, as Slattery surfs.  I would say he surfs a lot.

Goodman I didn’t love his part, I didn’t love the play, but to be in the room, a rather self-referential room, where Slattery remarking, “I’ll go into advertising,” is met with a chuckle, as is a line about how to get out of politics “You should go to Washington, DC.”

A show including police brutality, political corruption, journalism, women discounted and shrugged off and insulted, and all of it played lightly, for laughs.  Someone jumps out a window.  There’s a sound effect of the police testing the gallows.  “Crime’s up in Chicago!”  It is.

It was strange, to be in the room with great comedians, Slattery, Goodman, and of course Nathan Lane, whom I had never seen on stage.  He’s what they meant when they said, “chewing the scenery.”  Is there a voice bigger?  Is anyone else funnier just trying to push a desk?  All excellent comedians, hams, able to play their faces and hold energy in their bodies different places, and move and swoop just as they intended, it was nothing like what I’d say I love at the theater, which is transcendence, being taken in and enlightened.  This wasn’t that show.

It was a world we acknowledged was unreal, it was Brechtian that way, we acknowledged that John Slattery is famous for a TV show, he gets applause.  We acknowledge this is all for laughs, no one’s going to leap up and say we should take capital punishment or gun laws seriously.  These men with their brashness and their expertise were being clowns for us, and it felt like immediately behind their performance, they knew how much we needed it, and they needed it, too.

I didn’t cry.  I did laugh, at some dumb things, and because I wanted to, and because I had been afraid if I went home I would spend the evening in bed, cursing our internet for being patchy and wondering what I ought to be doing instead of watching TV.

And when I left I didn’t feel healed, exactly, or calmed, I was still unnerved by the depression that I felt just above my shoulders, which might lower hard the way it did last week. At least I knew that we had tried, that they had tried.  For more than a few minutes, I was free.

Image: “Pierrot Laughing,” Nadar, Adrien Tournachon, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Robert E. Lee Day

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To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless. We must combine strongly marked antitheses.
― Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

Trump’s not a perfect man, by any means. He kind of reminds me of my ex-husband.  I think he’s a really good man, deep down. This guy has such potential, and I truly believe he cares about our country and wants to help everyone. -Sandy Pearson, 48, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Today I read that Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi do not celebrate just Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  They combine it with celebrating Robert E. Lee Day.

For years I showed my students a documentary about a writing group in a women’s prison. One of the inmates, who is incarcerated for killing her own mother, explains what she did, rather matter of factly, and says that her siblings wouldn’t speak to her for years, and how she wanted to die.  There isn’t any further explanation, you’re just left wondering, why did she kill her mother?  Was she on drugs?  Was she mentally ill?  Did her mother abuse her? There is no explanation.

Betty Harris is unusual-looking: large, with a receding hairline, big, bold eyes, mousy teeth.  The first time the kids saw her, they often gasped or chuckled.  “It that a woman?”  Then she says what she did, and she says something like, “For a long time I wanted to die.  That was all I wanted.  For many years.  But it just went on and on.  And finally after a long, long time, I thought, maybe I want to live.”

I did some further research, and Ms Harris’ mother did abuse her, for many years.

I hear in my head, when I am lowest, and then feel the slight movement that is getting a bowl of cereal or smiling at the cat, I hear Ms Harris’ voice, “I want to live.”

I read: Why are you so negative?  Why do you complain?  Why can’t they be positive?  Why can’t you just support him and hope for the best?  

I feel very positive, positive about him needing to be removed from power, positive I have a right to a leader who doesn’t behave this way.  I feel very good about myself, and my education, and how I was raised to believe myself worthy of respect, and how I think with my great privilege came great responsibility.  Maybe I’ve never felt better about how, in spite of a lot of serpentlike messages from society, I still have dovelike passion, and no one’s taken it from me, and no one will.  I don’t have an ex-husband who reminds me of the president.  Baby, I don’t even have a guy I had a kooky sex dream about who reminds me of him.

I don’t want to, really, live in a place where someone so cruel and vulgar is chosen as a leader.  I don’t want to live in a place where people celebrate Robert E. Lee Day, and explain that there’s some good reason why they celebrate a guy who, all “it was a different time” tut-tuts aside, led an insurrection against the United States.

I don’t want to live in a place still haunted by slavery.  Or a place where schools for poor kids are pits of despair and schools for rich kids are palaces.

But that’s where I live.  And there’s no use in being positive about any of it, unless you mean I am positive about our capacity to grow and change and be more just.

I am positive about that.

I don’t want to live in the particular story when I sit in a room with four ladies who function as my New York aunties, one of them says, “I’m just so afraid.  This is exactly how Putin came to power.”  When she searches for English words and we all hold out hands with English words in them.  “You mean platform?”  “You mean sanctuary?”

This happened, the aunties had plied me with white wine, and then our meeting was over, and I knew I had to walk to the water.  This is an only in New York thing.  In Kansas City, I wouldn’t know where to find water, or look at it, except in my bathtub.  Every time I go to the water here, I play the beginning of Moby Dick in my head:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

A park at night, anywhere at night, is dangerous for a person alone, right, and a woman, for sure, it is more so.  New York is very safe now.  I think of my hero, Madeleine L’Engle, living in a comparably safe time in the city, the 1940s, she says, she used to take the Staten Island ferry, or walk along the river at night, alone, to cool off in the summer, and she never thought of the danger.

You have to do these things, though, be unsafe, to know you actually make choices, and you are your own self, no one tells you where you can and can’t be.

Maybe men feel this way, too, I don’t know.

I had to walk through Battery Park to get to the water.  It was ten o’clock.  It had been dark a long time.  It was our freak day of warm in January.  I walked to the carousel, which there is an underwater carousel, the animals you ride are sea animals, dolphins.  A couple sat on the park bench by the stopped carousel, and they made me safe.

And on the boardwalk along the river, a couple, or a jogger, made me safe.  And I looked at the water quite a while because I was a little drunk and pretty heartbroken, and listening to this song over and over:

In Germany before the war
There was a man who owned a store
In nineteen hundred thirty-four
In Dusseldorf
And every night at 5:09
He’d cross the park down to the Rhine
And he’d sit there by the shore

I’m looking at the river
But I’m thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
I’m looking at the river
But I’m thinking of the sea

A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray
Reflected in his glasses
As he watches her
A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray

I’m looking at the river
But I’m thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea

We lie beneath the autumn sky
My little golden girl and I
And she lies very still

That Statue stays, as it does, where would it go?  Its little light.  And the ferry moved in, smooth, it appears, bringing all the lines of her lights’ reflections, all those underlines, deep, deep underlines, along with her, until she disappeared into the ferry terminal to let people off, and let them on.

The other carousel I know is down next to, below, the Brooklyn Bridge.  I accidentally took a train that let me see it today.  The first time I saw it, it was still in a warehouse, up the bluffs, and the doors were open, so that my friend and I, who were walking by, stepped in, and he took my photo on the carousel.

The second time I saw it, I was down by the river for a writing event, and I sat on a rock and I watched a bride and groom have their wedding photos taken in front of the carousel, her with her dress which is made of plastic (polyester is), and the carousel, where it is installed, has glass doors all around that can be opened or shut, so it could stay circling through September, October.  The East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the carousel in a glass box, the trains over the bridge and under the river, the wedding dress that is now in a box, somewhere, with a plastic window so you can see what’s in it, all this stayed with me and tried to work itself into a poem I still can’t get right enough to quite please me.

The song is Randy Newman’s, “In Germany.”  Ms Pearson’s quote, at the top, is from here.  Image is  a musical instrument from France, from about 1810, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Great

188395.jpgI read somewhere that this is the most depressing week of the year.

This fact is unknown to everyone I met yesterday, who chatted happily about their recent travels to Asia and California, about how they love snow, about how beautiful it was, how they never get cold, actually.  I liked the “beautiful snow” business, and I moved away from the spoiled rich kids chatting about their relaxing on various lovely beaches ingesting hallucinogens, and got busy writing, dumping out my own blech on innocent slices of paper.  I almost didn’t hear the “I never get cold,” and I didn’t use it to think about how I was wearing wool socks and boots and my feet had been frozen the moment I stepped outside, and wouldn’t be warm again until I was back in my bedroom with a fleece blanket wrapped around them for thirty minutes.

It was known to me, though, later that night.

How should you feel when your country has been taken over by a lying, abusive monster?  I don’t think you should feel great.  If you feel great, you’re probably doing something wrong.

If you feel like there’s no reason to live, though, you probably should take you “as needed” meds, see your doctor to consider upping the daily one, watch comedies, build your lego buildings, scheme a way to get on the goddamn elliptical again, go for a walk no matter how stupid cold it is.  (This is my to-do list, and it’s going okay.)

Sunday morning, I successfully passed the Chinese tourists taking photos in front of DT’s building on Wall Street.  And I admired George Washington’s statue, his snowy cape and cap.  I was only five minutes late for church.  A guy sat next to me and kept pulling out his phone to type on it, while the priest baptized babies, censed the altar for communion, and I was overall able to resist wondering what the fuck was wrong with him.

I was somewhat improved.

I decided I would get lunch.  The door of the vestibule they put up in winter had a big hole smacked in it, so the wind, which blows powerful from the tip of the island down there, over the water, in a way I never knew wind could be cold, the wind could get in.  I opened the second door.  Picked a sandwich, popcorn, a banana that I knew it was likely I would not eat because who wants a banana when you can eat popcorn?

I took the food to the guy at the counter.  It’s a good day to be inside, I said.  Yeah, he said. What happened to your door, I saw it was busted?  Oh, he said.  Yesterday this guy bought some soup, then he yelled and threw it on the ground and broke the window out.  Oh, I said.  Damn.  Yeah, the other guy said.  Just another day in New York.  Right, I said.  Well, I didn’t think I was doing that great, but at least I haven’t thrown any soup or broken any windows lately.  Yeah, right, the guy said.

I took my lunch out and down the street, and I thought, I love this town.

Everyone in New York has a perfect right to flip out.  I never, never use mine, I always crumble internally, in every sense, but I like knowing I have the right to flip out externally, and someday I might.  I think actually it would be good for me, but it’s a long-term goal, like crying at a funeral, or telling someone that I think what we are doing is not only useless but counterproductive, and it’s making me crazy.  Yeah?

I went into another place for coffee.  Staying warm?  I asked the woman there.  She had blue hair.  Oh, it was so cold when I came in, she said.  It was like fifty degrees in here.  Oh, man, I said.  That’s awful.  Yeah, it’s kind of warming up now, kind of.  You need one of those vestibule things, I said.  Yeah, we do, she said.

I thought I’d wise up and take at 4 train because the R wasn’t running, but no, the 4 wasn’t running now, and the R was, except it skipped my stop, and I said to the woman with the baby, It’s always a mystery, isn’t it? after the conductor finished his both quiet and mumbly explanation for what the train was going to do.  It is, she said.  It’s an express now, I guess.  I guess, I said.

I got to writing place, put away the dishes, swept the floor (I help with chores for a discount), felt so much better.

What is a mental health problem, what is a spiritual problem, what is a reasonable reaction to terrible things happening, things that need intervention, action… after a reasonable period of mourning….

I don’t know.  From my first shrink visit twenty years ago, I was told, you’re moody, you have to watch, though, your lows don’t get too low.  You gotta watch that.  You can enjoy the highs if you can tolerate the lows.  Too depressed, nothing spiritual seems real, and super happy, everything is spiritual, everyone is Christ, it’s all good.  Your mood, so arbitrary, so chemical, you know it is, makes things real, or unreal, and I tread water in between times.

The priest talked about being your true self, about religion being about being free.  I’m a slave to my thoughts, to my judgments about myself, what I should have accomplished, or, to mix it up, how the world should have treated me, and hasn’t.  I don’t even know what I mean by “the world.”  I have an amorphous sense of anger.

Seven kids were baptized.  Two cried.  One immediately stopped crying when handed back to his parents.  One priest asked, before each baptism, “Name this child,” which I found striking, and the other priest, post-splashing, anointed and then kissed the kid on the forehead.  I wished so much that someone had kissed me right after I was baptized, the pastor, I think that would have been so nice, but of course, everyone kissed me, I’m certain, my mom and dad, my grandparents, all of whom were there, even my Catholic grandparents, who had once expressed concern that adopting Lutheranism threatened the state of my mother’s soul.

Even one set of my great-grandparents were there, down from their farm.  It was the only time I knew them to come to Kansas City.  Well, to go anywhere but their church, in the bustling metropolis of Lancaster, a town whose population has hovered around 200 in the last hundred years.  (Last census it was actually at an all-time high: 298.)

They made sure my dad was confirmed in the church, and they were there when I was baptized, too.  My great-grandmother was sharp and chatty, my great-grandfather was a wry, slow talker.  I don’t understand anything about them, or their lives, living in a cracker box house that got dragged out of a creek, through stupid Kansas winters, shooting and eating goddamn squirrels during the Depression, now that was a Depression, capital D!  But they loved me, and they showed the hell up, and I bet they kissed me.  I bet they did.

Image: “Girl’s hand,” Auguste Rodin, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lost

walll-2004-55This is where they keep the stars.  I look up, while driving, balancing my life at 75 miles an hour and my eyes wanting stars.  To the stars though difficulty.

The highway to Lawrence becomes a main drag of Lawrence, 23rd Street.  I couldn’t have told you K-10 becomes 23rd Street because I had never thought about it before, I just zoned out, past all the things I knew were there, and when I got to the sloped right turn onto Massachusetts, I took it, and was in Lawrence, Lawrence is Mass Street.  Once I got on K-10, I stared, searched the radio, sang with the song I found, switched to a CD, sang with that, started to think about things.  What was going on with me, anyway?  Dark, dark.

Since the election, in the darkness of fall, winter, in my new job, where I have all this idle time, where my heart isn’t immediately eaten upon entering the building, I’m more lost than I’ve felt since I started teaching.  What am I doing in this job I am overqualified for, making no money?  Why do I still live in New York?  What is my plan?  I remember I thought maybe I needed  year to let my heart grow back, fully, from all the people who fed on it, or gnawed at it.

I knew they had been working on K-10.  My parents reminisce about driving K-10 when it was two lanes.  My mother’s car was always breaking down between Lawrence and Kansas City.  She had an MG.  The way the generations improved, I bought roadsters, too, but reliable Japanese ones instead of British ones that were barely cars in the sense of the word “car, a thing that goes.”

My K-10 was four lanes, and my car only broke down once, the clutch went out.  It was no one’s fault,  just wear and tear, thank you, you Japanese.

I saw an exit for Ottawa, a real exit.  Huh.  They never had that.  Who did they think they were?  Then there was a sign for Haskell that I didn’t understand.  A Haskell highway or something?  A sign for UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS.  Okay.  The sign used to say KU NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, which is where you can see Custer’s horse, stuffed, if you wanted to see something like that.

Then a sign that said 23RD STREET.  Wait, what?

What is there in Kansas? my New York student said.  We sat in a room full of outdated computers missing cords and printers that were not hooked up, on the top floor of one of the worst high schools in the city.  We had a magnificent view of a huge park on that side of the building, and a great view of Manhattan on the other.

Well, there is this town, Lawrence, that was founded by abolitionists, and all the streets are named for states.  The main street is named for Massachusetts, because that’s where they were from.

Huh, my student says, because this is better than writing his final paper on concepts of utopia, I mean, what isn’t?

I kept flying down K-10, I wasn’t sure what time it was, the clock in the car is set to not daylight savings, and is 20 minutes fast, or some other outrageous combination that means I have no idea what time it is.  Should I be there?  There was a fence on one side of the road.   Sometimes it was two lanes instead of four.  Where the fuck was I?  Weren’t those lights up there Lawrence?  Wasn’t it that thing on the horizon, all those lights?  Wasn’t that Lawrence, abolition, my little abolitionist town?  Wasn’t that my town on the hill?

When I got to a sign that said Bob Billings, I thought, oh, shit, that’s where my friend lives, on what I think of as the far edge of New Lawrence.  I think I went too far, but how?  The next exit said 6th Street, and I veered off there.

I turned right on 6th Street because it felt like my town was to the right.

I have no sense of direction, just a sense of where Lawrence is.

“What the fuck is going on?” I kept saying, because that’s what I do when I am outraged, and alone, and never did it occur to me, at any time, to pull out my phone and look at a map.  When I’m lost or frustrated, what I want to do is go, go, go, until something makes sense, not consult anything, certainly not consult anyone.  I also could have called my friend, who was patiently waiting for me in one of my favorite bars in America, and knew where everything was in Lawrence because she fucking lives there.

No, I was listening to the radio, singing with it, and periodically saying aloud, “What the fuck is this?  What the fuck is THIS?”

None of the street names made any sense to me until I got to Kasold, then I was like, okay, I’m in Lawrence, that’s a Lawrence street, and nowhere else.  There aren’t any other towns of any size in that part of the world, it wasn’t like I could be anywhere else, but strange things were happening. My route was gone.  I kept going, going, seeing grocery stores that belonged in Kansas City, not Lawrence (Kansas City is Hy Vee, Lawrence is Dillon’s), a frickin Wal Mart (which Lawrence never had and shouldn’t have, obviously).

Finally I saw Maine.  It was going to be okay.  I saw the worst Chinese restaurant in the world (circa 1998).  I saw Florida, I would get to Massachusetts eventually, now.  It was going to be okay.

My approach was ruined, though.  Rather than South Park (where they used to steal the sign constantly when the same-named show began), City Hall, the Watkins History Museum’s big fat red glory, the Granada, where I used to be a whore, the Replay, I was beginning at the wrong end of Mass, with the candle store, the bar where we watched the basketball championships one year, and Free State, where my brother once picked a tick off his hand and squashed it, during lunch.

The wrong end, but it was still Lawrence.

I turned on 9th Street, I parked, I went into the bar, and my friend was sitting there, with the world’s most kind and reassuring, beautiful face, and a cocktail glass empty save a sliver of lemon peel.

“I got lost!” I said.

“Oh no!” she said.  “I should have told you!”

Who can tell you you are going to get lost?

Many people love me and would like to tell me.

The city’s there, somewhere, the town, and there’s a new way to get there, and I hate it, but we can find it, and they’ll be happy to see us when we get there.

Image: “The Storyteller,” Jeff Wall, Metropolitan Museum of Art.